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England legend Jonny Wilkinson still living for kicks after all these years

Jonny Wilkinson

A campaign which began on England duty against Wales before 80,000 at Twickenham in early August ended ten months later for Toulon’s favourite émigré before a similar multitude at the Stade de France. Four more goals hoisted his haul for the ten-month season to 154 and more points than anyone else in the three European Leagues.

And still they were not quite enough to end Wilkinson’s elusive quest for a club trophy since his teenage years at Newcastle. When the embryonic Falcons won the English title in 1998, Wilkinson played the last eight matches at inside centre without being needed to augment goal-kicking duties monopolised then by Rob Andrew.

His successor’s place in history has been guaranteed since that Saturday night in Sydney nine years ago but will Wilkinson also go down as the best place-kicker never to win a major club title off his own boot? During his three seasons in France, Toulon have been in three finals and lost the lot.

They would surely have won the first had Wilkinson not succumbed to injury during the 2010 Amlin Cup final against Cardiff Blues in Marseilles where a rudderless team came apart at the seams in the face of a Welsh onslaught.

Having lost a healthy lead and then the match, Toulon shrugged it off as a temporary setback to president Mourad Boudjellal’s grand plan of buying at least one major honour. They finished this season by losing another Amlin final, 18-15 to Biarritz in London, followed last weekend by the Top 14 decider in Paris, a try-less affair against Toulouse.

Boudjellal can justifiably point to Toulon’s first such final for 20 years as evidence that they are getting closer, even if the result left an overpowering sense of déjà vu, Toulouse winning 18-12 just as they had done when the clubs last contested the domestic decider, at the Parc des Princes, in 1989.

Provided their controversial owner doesn’t tire of collecting as many of the best players in the world and putting them under the same roof, Toulon’s time will surely come. That may not be of much comfort to their most famous player given that his is beginning to run out.

Nobody would ever be foolish enough to write Wilkinson off but time is no longer on his side. At 33, he will certainly have one more season at the highest level, probably two provided he keeps showing the same insatiable hunger which drove him to outpoint everyone else during the domestic season just ended.

It has taken him a mere three seasons to stack up a thousand points for Toulon from marginally more than 70 matches. The fact that he has missed no more than a mere handful because of injury says everything about his enduring quality.

Next season, when Toulon are reinforced by the usual galaxy of internationals from near and far like Frederic Michalak, Gethin Jenkins and Andrew Sheridan, they will not be content with any more hard luck stories. Instead they will use their heavy artillery in the hope of finishing up in Dublin at the European Cup final and/or Paris for another Top 14 denouement.

For Jonny, it could well be a case of now or never. In the meantime, he sits on top of the pile, still untouchable in the relentless business of making the opposition pay for breaking the law.

Nobody does it better.

PETER JACKSON

 

Europe’s exclusive top five: (figures based on all club matches, World Cup, Six Nations):

Jonny Wilkinson (Toulon & England) 418 Points

Owen Farrell (Saracens & England) 391 pts

Tom Homer (London Irish) 370 pts

Nick Evans (Harlequins) 333 pts

Dan Biggar (Ospreys & Wales) 331 pts

Club matches only (min: 250 pts):

Tom Homer (London Irish) 370 pts

Jonny Wilkinson (Toulon) 367 pts

Nick Evans (Harlequins) 333 pts

Dan Biggar (Ospreys) 329 pts

Owen Farrell (Saracens) 311 pts

Most tries: (World Cup, Six Nations, League, Europe, Anglo-Welsh)

Timoci Matanavou (Toulouse) 18

Alex Cuthbert (Cardiff & Wales) 17

Tim Visser (Edinburgh) 17

Chris Asthon (Northampton & England) 16

Christian Wade (Wasps & Saxons) 14

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